By Dapo Akinrefon
Arch Amagbe Denzil Kentebe, former executive secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, is a member of the Ijaw Elders’ Forum, IEF, which has been involved in a sustained campaign for peaceful governorship election in Bayelsa State.
In this interview, he tasks the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and security agencies on the need to ensure a free, fair and credible poll in the state.
Bayelsa is often perceived to be a violence-prone state. What in your opinion is the genesis of this trend?
That is a question I don’t know how to answer. What we found is that every time there are elections in Bayelsa, there is always one form of violence or the other. How it came about I cannot say. What we are trying to do is to change the narrative because it is in Niger Delta, people think there must always be violence in Bayelsa State during election.
There is always this perception that going to the Niger Delta, you must be ready for war. We have to try to change that narrative. And that is why we have been involved in this continued sensitization of our people. We have to understand that whoever becomes governor of Bayelsa State is a Bayelsan. He is an Ijaw man or woman. So, there is no reason for us to be violent with one another to the extent of even killing one another. We need to change that. Bayelsa people are peace- loving people, Ijaw people are peace-loving people. It is not every time election is taking place in Bayelsa that you must declare it a war zone.
On the claiming that desperate Abuja politicians who want to deliver a sizeable portion of votes to the centre at all cost are responsible
You are right in a sense. But if you look at the period between 1999 and 2015, Bayelsa was led by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the state level. All the governors have been PDP. At the centre, we had PDP. Since 2015 till date, we have had the APC at the centre but PDP at the state level.
So, if you are saying some of the APC members want to deliver the state to the APC at the centre, I don’t think so because it is the same players. The leader of APC in the state today was the leader of the PDP in the state eight years ago.
So, I don’t want to look at it as something that has to do with party politics itself. I think, one, it has to do with an attitude of the people that are Bayelsans, and two, of the security agencies. Three, the INEC coming from Abuja and four, the media. In my opinion, it has to do with perception. Even when we don’t have elections, you are made to believe that you are going to the den of kidnappers, and militants.
So, we are only reacting naturally to what is perceived as state oppression of our people.
If there is no violence, whoever wants to lead the state will have to come out and explain his or her policies and people will listen. At the end of the day, you get someone who can deliver the dividends of democracy because the process is transparent and credible.
What are you doing to carry this message of peace to the ordinary people?
The ordinary man in Bayelsa is peaceful. So, it is easier to talk to those stakeholders because they are peace-loving people. We have been having radio programmes where we are talking directly to Bayelsans. Everybody in one way or the other is trying to disseminate this information. This agitation for violence is coming from the top. And that is why we are targeting political actors to make them agree to a peaceful process.
How are you going to sustain the peace initiative beyond the election period?
The initiative will be sustained because we have got a very good feeler from not only the citizens of Bayelsa State, but also from international community. When elections are over, we are going to have a systemic approach for dealing with it. We will approach primary and secondary schools to engage the youths so that this culture of non-violence is embedded in them. We will also go to communities to discuss with parents why they shouldn’t be a bad example to their children. We will partner with civil society organizations, organize seminars that will encourage good, credible, transparent and non-violence election.
In the light of all you have done so far, what is your expectation of the coming primaries of the various political parties?
What we have done has helped to sensitise the people as to the negatives of having violence in an election. And like I said, we have been getting good reports. I wish we could do more. The time and resources we are putting into this could have been better put into use in other things that can develop the state. However, we have to do that.
I believe that we have started well and we haven’t seen any kind of opposition to what we are doing as stakeholders. We just pray that when the time comes, what we’ve been preaching will be adhered to.